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WSU awards first doctoral degree in prevention science

What do teen pregnancy, diabetes, homelessness, domestic violence, and obesity have in common? Besides being things that are best prevented, they’re also topics Ashley Beck addresses at Spokane Regional Health District.

Laura Hill, Tom Power, Ashley Beck, and Brittany Cooper celebrate Beck's successful defense of her doctoral dissertation in April.
Laura Hill, Tom Power, Ashley Beck, and Brittany Cooper celebrate Beck’s successful defense of her doctoral dissertation in April.

Beck recently completed the first ever Ph.D. in Prevention Science in the United States at Washington State University.

The multi-disciplinary WSU Prevention Science program is pro-active. That is, it aims to reduce various health issues in society before they start.

“It’s kind of like behavioral vaccinations,” said Laura Hill, chair of the WSU Department of Human Development and a Prevention Science faculty member. “Prevention is much more effective than having to treat the problems later, and much more efficient.”

For Beck, the prevention science program dovetailed perfectly with her background in early childhood development and her interest in policy development.

“This program is the intersection of policy and communities,” said the Moscow, Idaho, native. “I love being connected to a community, but still involved in the policy side.”

Beck finished her dissertation, which focused on obesity prevention programs, last month and is already working in Spokane to help the local health district, and other community organizations, develop or refine programs targeting a variety of health-related outcomes.

“I can evaluate programs like pregnancy prevention, and make suggestions about incorporating data collection and then using that data,” Beck said.

Tom Power, founding director of the WSU Prevention Science program, was Beck’s advisor and mentor as she earned her doctorate.

“Ashley was a great student and is already making significant contributions to our field,” Power said.

He said Beck coordinated many research studies for him, and he is proud to see her graduate this weekend.

“It took 10 years to develop this program, and now it’s really thriving,” Power said. “It’s fantastic to see our first graduate go out and do such great work.”

Beck was one of the first group of 12 students in the Prevention Science program. Next year, 38 students are enrolled in the program.

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